5G, IoT Solutions Are Transforming the Mining Industry
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5G, IoT Solutions Are Transforming the Mining Industry

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Perla Velasco By Perla Velasco | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Thu, 02/02/2023 - 12:56

Many mines still lack the communications infrastructure to support the innovation that automated mining operations demand. However, the need to enhance and implement these technologies is becoming increasingly relevant for mines. 5G technology can provide opportunities to the sector, enhancing automation and remote operations that will improve coverage, lower latency and enable higher reliability at every stage of the mining operation.

Renato Bueno, Head of Sales for Digital Industries Latin America, Nokia, shared his insights on the wide array of benefits from implementing 4G and 5G infrastructure to open-pit and underground mining operations. As leaders in 4G and 5G connectivity, Nokia’s Nokia Bell Labs envisions mining operations 10 years in the future to bring technology insights that can support the mining industry in improving connectivity, productivity and safety solutions. The leading trends that guide new technologies for the mining industry in Latin America are efficiency to produce more with the same resources, productivity to retrieve more resources and environmental, social and governance (ESG) benchmark compliance.

5G connectivity will support mine operators in protecting their workers from harm by creating unmanned mines that are both safer and smarter. Moreover, 5G industrial environments will deliver ultra-high-definition video and sub-millisecond latency. This enables real-time remote control of high-speed robots and drones and will connect IoT sensors with industrial devices above and underground. “The main initiatives we see in Latin America in terms of safety consider minimizing the presence of operators in dangerous environments. What is more, having real-time information about dangerous activities in the mine means operators can act and prevent any accidents,” said Bueno.

As for productivity, enhanced connectivity offers the fastest automation systems, which eliminate bottlenecks and streamline operations. 5G applications can increase effective production hours by removing downtime, enabling remote operation, increasing transparency and delivering insights toward enhanced critical decision-making. These benefits can in turn lead to greener operations.

Nokia said many of its customers in the sector have already begun testing and trialing 5G technology. For example, in Chile, copper company Codelco is running a 5G pilot at its Radomiro Tomic mine. There, high-definition cameras transmit real-time video from the mine’s crushing area to its new Integrated Operations Center in Santiago, 1,500km away. The Nokia 5G network is expected to increase the facility’s capacity tenfold to capture more data and improve big data applications. This will enable Codelco to analyze waiting and material unloading times almost immediately to optimize its processes.

Communication stability has shifted from a trend to a necessity, especially in underground mining, where internet connections play a key role both in production and safety. The development of higher bandwidth connections is necessary to continue to keep up with the latest technological developments, as technologies such as Wi-Fi or Wi-Max do not function well underground

Bueno underlines the benefits of 4G and 5G connectivity, as these lack the deficiencies that Wi-Fi or Bluetooth operations struggle with. Moreover, according to Bueno, the total impact of digital automation on mining productivity, reaches up to 17.2% in an open-pit scenario, which reflects on working hours, retrieved tonnes as well as income and utility savings.

The Mexican mining industry seems to have taken an important step in the development and implementation of new technologies. These developments must be accompanied by powerful security systems that fight cyberattacks, considered the Achilles’ heel of this new mining revolution. To this end, Nokia’s connectivity solutions are accompanied by military-grade security systems that protect private mining operations from network problems.

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